Monday, 16 July 2012

R T Kendall's deeply mistaken "Forgiving God" teaching

R T Kendall wants to explain why we should "forgive God".

Forgive God? Has God done something wrong? Kendall replies, "I honestly do not believe God is guilty of doing anything wrong. He has nothing to answer for." Confused? Me too. In the English language, forgiveness is extended to wrong-doers. By definition, the person who needs to be forgiven is the person who has done wrong. The one who has done nothing wrong requires no forgiveness. The two concepts are opposites.

Kendall continues, "Why then do we need to forgive him?" That's coming to the point... what's the answer?

"First, we must not be governed by our limited perception of him – supposing that we are qualified to judge him;". Now, notice that this is a reason why we need to forgive God despite him having done nothing wrong. Again, the English language appears to have been turned on its head. If you accept the premise that you are not "qualified to judge" someone, then as night follows day, it follows that you have thus accepted that you cannot then decide to "forgive" that person either. If on the other hand you are "forgiving" someone, then you have already judged that that person stands in need of forgiveness.

Kendall appears to be using the word "forgive" not to mean "to pardon wrongdoing", as it means in English, but with a novel and contradictory meaning - "to accept what the other person has done, without necessarily evaluating whether what that person did was justified or not."

That was first. What is second?

"secondly, we forgive him not because he is guilty, but because we choose to affirm him as he is revealed in the Bible".

R T Kendall is a teacher of the church. Teachers are supposed to elucidate truth, not to obscure it. The only reason for forgiving someone is because we consider them guilty. As the Oxford English Dictionary says, "Definition of forgive: (with object) stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake." Since God is not guilty of any offences, flaws or mistakes, ergo there exists nothing to forgive him for.

What is revealed about God in the Bible? Reading through Kendall's article, he affirms the orthodox truth that God is too wise to make mistakes and too loving to not do what is best for his children. Again, this second point appears to teach and reveal nothing to us, except that Kendall has chosen to give a novel new meaning to the concept of "forgive". He appears to realise that his reader will know the usual meaning of that word, because he has to clarify - "not because he is guilty". The reader realises that "forgiveness" implies "guilt". So the meaning of the redefinition needs explaining.

But explaining esoteric and personal redefinitions of Biblical terms is not Bible teaching. It's just parading your idiosyncrasies and drawing attention to yourself, to the confusion of the flock.

"and thirdly, we must set him free – letting him totally off the hook – until the day arrives when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11)."

We must "set him free"? What does that mean? Apparently it means "letting him totally off the hook". But what hook is this? Since Kendall has conceded that God is not guilty of anything, then there is no hook.

Where does this "freedom", or lack of it (the "hook") exist? Is it an objective one, or a subjective one? That is, is God really on trial to legitimate accusations by his rebellious and depraved creatures? Or is it some kind of psychological state that only exists inside us that we need to release ourselves from by changing our own twisted conception of God? Kendall does not make this point immediately clear in the above article. The gloss at the end of the sentence, "until the day arrives when every knee shall bow (etc.)" does not appear to shed any light at first, and its function in the sentence is not clear (how would the sentence's meaning be altered if we simply changed it for "until the end of time"?)

As Kendall unfolds his teaching, the answer is apparently "both". You need to forgive God "because of what it will do for you". Failing to forgive God will make you bitter. Secondly, "because of what it will do for him." What this means, in Kendall's explanation, is that God will be really pleased that you are not bitter any more. Thirdly, Kendall explains the meaning of the end of his sentence. On the final day of judgment, God will show the world that he was right all along; he will vindicate himself. This appears to imply that God really is on the hook objectively - that the issue is that he is being accused of wrong-doing. Here, Kendall shows his confusion again; though he's re-defined "forgive" to mean "accept what he's done", he's now equivocating with its actual meaning, "pardon an offender", and ending up with some kind of hybrid: we accept what he's done, because later he'll prove to us that he is not an offender.

I see no Biblical evidence that the purpose of the day of judgment is for God to prove that he is not an offender. Quite the reverse: the day of judgment *pre-supposes* that God is the righteous judge who will sit to judge the actual offenders. God is not the one on trial on the day of judgment. The Biblical doctrine of forgiveness has nothing to do with waiting until that day for him to be vindicated.

Interpreted to its logical conclusions, Kendall's use of this kind of language is blasphemous. The article makes clear enough that Kendall does not himself interpret it these conclusions. Much of the words in his article could be helpfully re-employed in an article about God's sovereignty and our response to it. Nevertheless, he is guilty of a perverted and confusing use of language, for no good reason. That is not at all to minimise the offence, because with teachers, language is their primary tool to use in instructing God's flock. I don't know what is motivating Kendall to do this, but it is shameful. With light-bearers like these, who needs people to confuse us?

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